Breakout is a seminal work in African-American literature that further exposes the imposed separation between so-called "black" and "white" cultures, recounting the buried thoughts and feelings of two African-American men who came of age in predominantly white academic environments. Leaving categories behind, Wright and his companion have a personal conversation dealing with the universal aspects of a misshapen culture, including materialism, racism, and the denial of true individualism, while expressing the complexities of being black in America and negotiating educational opportunity, taboos, questions of "selling out," and definitions of success. An everyman's autobiographical novel with a twist, Breakout leaves the reader knowing that asking the avoided questions and being true to one's self is the pivotal beginning of any quest for knowledge, as individuals and as a nation of amalgamated identities.
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Lerron Richard Wright was born in New York City and raised in the Bronx. In 1993, he received his bachelor’s degree in English from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Three years later, he earned a master’s degree in Educational Media from Fairfield University in Connecticut. Still undecided about a career, Wright moved to Chicago, where he lived for four years. There, he worked on his first novel Breakout: A Search for Being while pushing a mail cart for a prestigious advertising company. When his novel was completed, Wright moved back east to Connecticut, not content to stay in any one place for too long. He now lives in Branford and works as an editor for the Milford Weekly, while also teaching part-time at Naugatuck Valley Community College in Waterbury.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
That's always been a funny thing to me, this whole notion of selling out. What exactly is "selling out" for a black person? Tryin' to be "white?" How does one be black or white? Hmmm. I'm surrounded by white people. I'm supposed to adjust myself in order to learn how to play The Game, but I'm not supposed to imitate them. I'm supposed to play by the rules to get what I need. I'm not supposed to get too close, especially with the women, that unwritten, ominous taboo. Oh. Okay.
That's where it started for me, the whole absurd set of contradictions of what it's supposed to mean to be black in America. In many ways, we do imitate, but we're not supposed to assimilate, the black politically-correct response to this society's enduring resistance to acknowledge the apartheid-like history of this country, and its enduring effects, that make true assimilation impossible anyway. Then again, the only way to live and survive in this country is "The American Way," so we've got no choice but to try and participate, right? It requires assimilation to a certain degree, but then there's that old barrier of our skin and the perceptions that have been built into it, creating what W.E.B. Dubois called the "double consciousness" inherent in all black people: being "black," which, historically in America, meant being delegated to a less-than-human status, yet being American at the same time, an identity that was originally equated with being "white." Black people live with the tension of wanting inclusion despite our frustration of America's resistance to inclusiveness, whether that resistance is a result of choice on the part of society at large, or the inevitability of historical effect.
There's a part of all black people that wants to "sell out" in the sense of wanting acceptance and acknowledgement of our humanity. On the other hand, there's a quiet acceptance that perhaps things will never change, and the best we can hope for is the 21st century version of separate but equal, not legally separated from society at large, but separated because of the de facto results of government-sanctioned segregation. That frustration, that resentment, is what creates the notion of not "selling out" to white folks; a mindset of choosing to stay separated because it's inevitable anyway.
There was never a clear definition, to me, of what it was to sell out. Nobody ever actually told me, "Don't sell out, but I responded to that thing: that thing, growing up in America, we all respond to, that thing we can't see or touch, but we know it's there, and we know it has rules, just as sure as we know the sky is blue. It's the thing that separates us into "others," with jaded perceptions and implicit directions to stay separated, and the result is that we're not able to break through to each other's humanity, hence denying our own without being aware of it. We are more than socially-designated colors.
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